Stewart Downing

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Aston Villa holds off Boro, moves onto playoff final

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Playoff finals are old hat for Steve Bruce, but a new event for Aston Villa.

The Birmingham club beat Middlesbrough 1-0 over two legs, the second a 0-0 draw at Villa Park on Tuesday, to advance to meet Fulham in the Championship Playoff final at Wembley Stadium on May 26.

Stewart Downing‘s 89th minute free kick off the cross bar was Boro’s only sniff of the goal.

[ MORE: The season of Salah ]

Villa is in just its third season outside of the English top flight since 1975, though Bruce managed Hull City and Birmingham City to the Premier League through the playoffs.

Boro scored plenty under Tony Pulis in the season, but it was a case of traditional Pulis stats in the playoffs. The notoriously stingy manager saw his side manage just two shots on target over two legs, with both coming in the home leg.

Lewis Grabban of Villa had the two best scoring chances of the match, but Darren Randolph made a pair of saves.

Villa won the first leg on a Jack Grealish to Mile Jedinak goal.

On Monday, Fulham flipped a first leg deficit to Derby County on its ear to clinch its space at Wembley.

Middlesbrough 2-2 Man City: Jesus stuns bright Boro

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Middlesbrough, feeling hard done by a harsh refereeing decision, felt justice had been done when Calum Chambers bungled the ball into the back of the net with 13 minutes to go. What a result it would be in the relegation battle.

It was not to be. Gabriel Jesus, on his return from injury, scored a thumping header with five minutes remaining to peg back Boro for the second time, leaving the home side with a valuable point but a bitter taste in their mouths.

City had its first good effort on net after eight minutes as Sergio Aguero shifted to his left and looked for the top corner but the ball curled just over the bar.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The game had little on net as it progressed past the half-hour mark, until Middlesbrough had a few half-chances. Marten De Roon put one over the bar under heavy pressure inside the penalty area, and then Stewart Downing also missed the target moments later.

With the home side impressing throughout the first half, matching City step for step, they managed to find a way in front. A Kevin De Bruyne cross was cut out by George Friend and it sparked a vicious break. Downing’s cross from the left was too far behind Friend, but it fell to Alvaro Negredo who fell as he shot, but managed to get the left-footed effort off the left post and into the back of the net as the home fans erupted. Negredo’s goal against his former club was only the beginning of his fantastic performance.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

After the break, Pep Guardiola kept the starting lineup out there momentarily, but quickly made a double change just four minutes in as he yanked off Aleix Garcia and Gael Clichy in favor of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling. They immediately made an impact as Sterling’s effort on net was only blocked last-ditch by Calum Chambers.

City began to attack with more vicious intent, and Sterling again had a shot blocked by Chambers’ face on 57 minutes. Their pressure bore fruit as Sane went down in the box under pressure from De Roon, and referee Kevin Friend pointed to the spot. The Middlesbrough players absolutely lost their minds, with both De Roon and Fabio earning yellow cards for dissent after the decision. At first glance of the replay there was a clear foul, but upon closer inspection it appeared Sane leaned heavily into the contact to draw the whistle.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Aguero blasted the penalty in to leave little doubt as the score leveled at 1-1, with the home fans and players still incensed. Middlesbrough looked for a way back into the lead by bringing on Adama Traore, who immediately drew a yellow on Nicolas Otamendi for a foul on a breakaway.

Middlesbrough would eventually get justice for the penalty, as they went back in front with 13 minutes remaining. A free-kick was only parried awkwardly by Willy Caballero, and somehow City failed to clear with the ball pinging all over the box. Negredo somehow kept it alive with a back-heel, and eventually his shot was turned in clumsily by Chambers who wheeled away in delight.

Again though, the lead would not hold. Fabio fouled Sane on the left flank, and Aguero delivered a cross into the box, and only Jesus judged it correctly, cracking the header past Brad Guzan. That leveled things at 2-2, ripping the collective hearts out of Riverside Stadium. City pushed for a winner down the stretch in tense final minutes, but could not find the right formula. Aguero had to come off late with what looked to be a slight knock, a slight concern for City at the end.

The point for Middlesbrough sees them climb within four of Swansea City, who also drew a Manchester club earlier on Sunday. They still remain six points adrift of safety with Hull City well above, leaving the draw feeling like a brutal loss. For City, they keep pace with Manchester United, but cannot build any lead above their single point.

Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland: Derby honors and a bit of life

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  • Boro’s first PL win since Dec. 17
  • Smoggies move within six of 17th
  • Sunderland on verge of relegation

Marten De Roon snared Middlesbrough new hope at safety and a derby win as Boro scored early to complete a season sweep of Tees-Wear Derby rivals Sunderland on Wednesday.

The 1-0 win means Sunderland is 12 points back of 17th place Hull City with five matches to play. Hull has four matches left.

For Boro, it’s six points back of Hull but a devastating run-in that includes Man City, Chelsea, Southampton, and Liverpool.

The win was USMNT backstop Brad Guzan‘s second of the Premier League season, the first coming in the reverse fixture.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

De Roon tilted the Tees-Wear Derby to Boro’s side with an opening goal that could signal the end of Sunderland’s slim safety hopes.

Stewart Downing tempted 2-0 with a hard low shot that Jordan Pickford did very well to save with a leg.

Sunderland did find a bit of danger when Didier N’Dong forced Brad Guzan into a save, but Billy Jones nodded over the frame.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Middlesbrough 1-2 Arsenal: Sanchez, Ozil save Gunners again

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  • Sanchez’s free kick put Arsenal ahead in 42′
  • Negredo answered back 5 minutes into 2nd half
  • Ozil’s winner in 71′ keeps top-four dreams alive

Arsenal’s quest for a top-four finish has improved ever so slightly from where it stood two hours ago, though the Gunners’ performance in a 2-1 victory away to 19th-place Middlesbrough did very little to inspire confidence and relieve the pressure on Arsene Wenger.

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After an opening 40 minutes which saw very little in terms of scoring chances for either side, Alexis Sanchez broke the scoreless deadlock with a stunning free kick from 23 yards out (WATCH HERE). Brad Guzan, who returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 2 (in PL play), couldn’t move as the Chilean’s dead-ball strike cleared the wall and dipped under the crossbar.

The lead was short-lived, though, as Boro pulled level through Alvaro Negredo in the 50th minute. Stewart Downing hit the perfect cross to the top of the six-yard box, Laurent Koscielny whiffed on his clearance attempt, and Negredo beat Petr Cech to make it 1-1 (WATCH HERE).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Following Negredo’s equalizer, any semblance of discipline and game plan from either side went out the window. The pace of the game went through the roof as Arsenal chased three points in their bid to catch fourth-place Manchester City (who are now seven points ahead, having played one more game than Arsenal), as Boro sought the same in hopes of fighting off relegation.

Much like his manager, Mesut Ozil’s future remains very uncertain two months before the summer transfer carousel begins spinning once again. Monday offered Ozil a brief reprieve and the chance to play the role of hero (above video). Sanchez played a lofted ball into the box, which Aaron Ramsey chested down into the path of an unmarked Ozil, and the 28-year-old German international slammed his first-time effort past Guzan.

[ MORE: Ahead of FA Cup semifinal, Conte calls Spurs “the best team” in PL ]

The victory sees Arsenal move past Everton (on goals scored) for sixth in the league table, while Boro remain six points off the pace of Hull City, who currently occupy 17th.

Crystal Palace 1-0 Middlesbrough: Relief for the Eagles

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  • Van Aanholt’s scores first Palace goal
  • Boro have scored 3 goals in 9 games
  • Palace out of bottom three
  • Allardyce has 2nd PL win in 9 games at Palace

Crystal Palace beat Middlesbrough 1-0 at Selhurst Park on Saturday as Sam Allardyce‘s side pulled off a big win to move them out of the bottom three.

The lone goal of the game came in the first half as Patrick Van Aanholt sent a low shot into the far corner and despite having plenty of possession Boro never truly threatened.

With the win Palace move on to 22 points and out of the relegation zone, while Boro remain on 22 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Palace took the game to Boro early on and Wilfried Zaha went down in the box but no penalty kick was awarded despite contact.

Boro barely threatened going forward and Benteke sent a header straight at Victor Valdes after climbing well in the box.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Benteke was then denied by Valdes again as he turned and sent a shot towards the far corner but the Spaniard pushed it away.

Then at the other end a great cross from Gaston Ramirez found Alvaro Negredo and his header down found Cristhian Stuani but as he turned the ball got away from him under pressure from Mamadou Sakho.

Before half time Palace took the lead as a looping ball from Yohan Cabaye‘s deflected shot caused havoc and left back van Aanholt swept home with his right foot into the far corner with a bobbling effort. 1-0 to the Eagles.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Wayne Hennessey saved Ramirez’s free kick with ease, then Zaha smashed a shot just over on the break for Palace.

Boro pushed hard for an equalizer as Stewart Downing‘s cross found Stuani but his powerful volley was straight at Hennessey.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Stuani appealed for a penalty kick as his shot hit James Tomkins on the arm but Bobby Madley denied the calls.

Boro kept the ball well but failed to really create any clear-cut chances as Palace felt they had a clear PK shout waved away by Madley as James McArthur went down in the box.